Melbourne-based genetics professor Don Tillman is about as socially awkward a human being as you could hope to find. He has never had a romantic relationship and, when the book begins he has only two friends: Gene, a fellow professor whose real life work is trying to sleep with a woman from every country, and Claudia, Gene’s psychologist wife whose tolerance for her open marriage is wearing thin. Though Gene and Claudia are more socially adept than Don, their attempts to help him find a partner haven’t yielded much:
Gene and Claudia tried for a while to assist me with the Wife Problem. Unfortunately, their approach was based on the traditional dating paradigm, which I had previously abandoned on the basis that the probability of success did not justify the effort and negative experiences. I am thirty-nine years old, tall, fit and intelligent, with a relatively high status and above-average income as an associate professor. Logically, I should be attractive to a wide range of women. In the animal kingdom, I would succeed in reproducing.
In the animal kingdom, Don might succeed. In Melbourne, not so much. Seeking a solution, Don comes up with The Wife Project. This involves a detailed questionnaire meant to weed out any unviable candidates, unviable in this case meaning anyone who is a vegetarian, who is unpunctual, who smokes, who does not have a graduate-level education…the exacting list goes on.
But when Don meets Rosie, who is the exact opposite of the woman he is hoping to find with The Wife Project, things begin to change. Logically, it makes no sense for him to spend time with her. She is not a viable candidate for marriage (being a perpetually late vegetarian smoker, among other things) and yet he still finds himself enjoying the time he spends with her, though his interactions with her throw the rest of his carefully scheduled life into chaos. And when he discovers Rosie is trying to discover who her birth father is, what could be more natural than Don, a geneticist, offering his assistance? So begins The Rosie Project.
This is just such a sweet book. It is funny and quirky but it is the tenderness with which Simsion treats his narrator that makes it so special. As I said, I’ve already read it twice this year and you can be sure that I’ll be rereading it many times in the years to come.